The little-pressured waters where the Tensas River meets Bayou Macon provide outstanding hunting, even when duck numbers in the state are low.
Duck hunters throughout Louisiana were whining about the dearth of targets last year, and many had given up by the end of the first split.
But one group of hunters quietly went about the business of killing their limits.
No, they weren’t baiting ponds.
They simply knew an area that offers an almost guaranteed supply of birds.
“It’s a flight-duck area right along one of the major flight corridors,” said Winnsboro’s Gary Dickson, who manages Eutaw Plantation Hunting Club. “They’ll lay over for two or three days, and then they move on, and other ducks come in to take their place.
“It’s just a steady flow. Even last year when (the state) didn’t have many ducks, we killed our limits.”
And the best part of the secret is that the waters that draw these lay-over birds are not fields. They’re not even on private property.
While Dickson can hunt agricultural fields on the hunting club’s 1,100 acres, he often loads his crew up and heads to the public backwaters of the Tensas River.
This meandering river offers two different kinds of hunting opportunities.
The one that Dickson most frequently takes advantage of is found around the confluence of the Tensas River and Bayou Macon.
The meeting of these two waterways just northeast of Sicily Island doesn’t look particularly special during the low-water periods in the summer.
But when fall rains begin to swell the river and its tributaries, water backs up into overgrown areas at this meeting place, and perfect duck-hunting waters are created.
“They’re called glades; they’re just inlets of the river,” Dickson said. “When the water’s low, they grow up with grasses.”
The result when the water rises during the fall and winter is areas of water ranging in depth from from 4 to 8 feet, depending upon the level of the river.
Thousands upon thousands of mallards and teal, along with a few pintails and the occasional wigeon, flock to the area.
Clumps of grass dot the 10 or so glades located in this area, but Dickson said the seeds of these grasses aren’t what draws the birds.
“The ducks aren’t feeding,” he said. “They’re just resting.”
What he has learned over the years is that waterfowl use the river as a sort of highway, traveling down the waterway and feeding in adjacent agricultural fields.
Once they are gorged, however, they move back to the river to rest.
And these wide-open, flooded glades provide just the kind of resting grounds ducks love.
Because the birds found in these areas are simply resting, Dickson said hunters shouldn’t worry about looking for submerged aquatics or even water shallow enough for dabblers to feed.
“They’ll stay in that deeper water; you don’t have to get real shallow,” he said.
That means this is not the standard blind situation — there is really no way to hunt the glades except from a boat.
That’s a foreign concept to most Louisiana hunters, who are used to hunting from set blinds or squatting in shallow cover.
And setting up fixed blinds wouldn’t be very effective anyway because the ducks frequently change the areas in which they prefer to rest.
“You can hunt a glade a couple of times and have ducks all over you, but go back and think there’s not a bird in the state,” Dickson explained. “If you pass one of the other glades, there’ll be thousands of ducks piled in there.”
Many Louisiana hunters would be stumped about how to kill these birds, but Dickson and the few hunters in the know about the glades’ offerings use something that looks foreign in this state.
“Hunters down here don’t have (hunting) boats; everybody up north does, though,” Dickson said.
So when he takes a group of hunters out to the glades, they hop aboard one of Eutaw Plantation’s hunting boats and head out.
There are two different configurations available at Eutaw.
One is a War Eagle bateau equipped with an Avery blind.
But what he really prefers to hunt out of is a 14-foot party barge.
“You wouldn’t believe it,” Dickson chuckled. “It’s a full-size barge with a four-man skid on it.”
The barge even has 3-foot hand rails around it.
“We just use the big motor and drive it up where we want to set up,” he explained. “We never have to kill the motor.”
There are no trees in the glades — the only features are the grass clumps and a few stumps — so Dickson said camouflage is critical.
“We just pull up in the weeds,” he explained.
The barge is tricked out with camo grass, and ducks don’t seem to notice it at all.
“You pull up in anything, and you wouldn’t know it’s there,” Dickson said.
In fact, the big barge is much less noticeable than the Avery-equipped boat.
“The War Eagle has a definite shape, and every bird that’s flown down from Canada has been shot at from one,” he explained. “We kill birds from it, but I think a lot of birds see the shape and know there’s danger.”
If there has been enough rain to produce high river stages, willows on the back side of the glades will flood, and hunters can set up in these areas.
But Dickson said the hunting actually is much better when the there isn’t enough rain to push the Tensas River and Bayou Macon into the willows.
“It’s better when you don’t have water (in the agricultural fields),” he said. “When the water is up, it’s sort of hit or miss.”
That’s because low rainfall leaves few other resting areas for ducks moving into the area.
“The ducks will be up there 1,000 feet high, and they’ll just pile down into these areas,” Dickson said.
Drawing ducks in isn’t a matter of massive spreads of decoys, either.
“I use no more than two dozen, especially latter in the season,” Dickson said. “I think that birds get used to seeing those big blocks, and they avoid them.
“We’ve taken six decoys out and tore them up.”
However, it’s not as easy as just pulling up into a glade, killing the engine and tossing a few dekes out.
“You’ve got to scout and find out where the ducks are,” Dickson said.
This is something most hunters aren’t used to, and Dickson believes it’s one reason why there are so few Louisiana hunters willing to hunt the glades.
“It’s not something that’s guaranteed. It’s not like taking candy from a baby,” he said. “You’ve got to put some time and effort into it. You’ve got to hunt.”
Dickson will often go out the day before a hunt and simply run his boat past the glades, looking for rafts of birds.
The next day he’ll return with his bateau or barge, pull into the area and anchor.
His preferred set is a swinging J.
“I put that hole right in front of the boat,” Dickson said.
If possible, he also likes to set up fairly near the shoreline.
“I like to make it so if they land wide, they’ll be close to the shore and close to the predators,” he explained.
This normally ensures ducks cooperate and land in the hole of the set, which is important to Dickson’s philosophy on hunting.
“We like to set up so that the ducks are coming right into the boat. We get some 14-yard shots,” Dickson said. “I don’t like to sky bust.”
Although the glades draw many ducks, Dickson said the Tensas River provides many other opportunities for quick limits and exciting hunting in the bends formed as it snakes southward.
However, success on the bends requires even more scouting than when hunting the glades.
“You’ve got to scout; you can’t just go and set up and expect to kill birds,” Dickson said.
Although the bends are defined by flooded timber, what actually draws ducks are small openings in the trees.
“There are a lot of little coves out of the wind; that’s what they’re looking for,” he said.
Locating these duck magnets takes some time.
“You have to peak in and out of the flooded timber. Just look for some birds, and then get far enough away and actually scout them,” he said. “See where they land.”
But once a sweet spot has been located, limits are all but guaranteed.
“Everything will look the same, but for some reason they like one spot,” Dickson said. “If you can get into that spot, you can put your duck calls up.
“You can call to make yourself look good, but you don’t need to call. They’re coming in there.”
And while many times hunters can count on getting shots at small flights coming in, some of the holes actually draw huge flocks.
“There would be times last year when there would be 2,000 to 3,000 ducks in a hole,” Dickson said.
The best time to be in any of the Tensas River resting spots is on a bitterly cold day when the wind is blowing steadily.
“If it’s cold, you can hunt all day, but it’s got to be real cold,” Dickson said. “On those bitterly cold days, when the birds are looking for a place to get out of the wind, you do better.”
The only problem with the hunting in these little known areas is that birds don’t get moved by hunters.
“One of our major problems is we don’t get enough people hunting to keep them moving,” he said.
And that means ducks raft up and refuse to move.
“If you get a big bunch of birds on the water, you’re not going to call ducks off of them,” Dickson said.
So by sharing his secret, Dickson also helps keep birds from resting too long.
Eutaw Plantation Hunting Club can be reached (318) 724-7394 or log onto www.eutawplantation.com.